McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

February 11, 2014

CASA to meet for dissolution

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — A group which has served as a special court advocate for children in the McAlester and Eufaula areas planned to meet Tuesday night to discuss and vote on whether to formally dissolve.

CASA of Southeast Oklahoma, also known as Court Appointed Special Advocates for Pittsburg and McIntosh counties, planned to meet at 6 p.m. in the CASA offices at 1230 S. Main St., adjacent to H.L.’s Pawn Shop.

A single item was listed on the meeting agenda under new business. It called for “Discussion and vote on dissolution of CASA of Southeast Oklahoma, Inc. and sale of real property.”

CASA is an organization charged with serving as an advocate for children and with speaking up for the best interests of children who are in the court system because they were neglected or abused. Judges appoint CASA volunteers to watch over and speak out for abused and neglected children to make sure they don’t get lost in the legal or social service systems, or languish in the foster care system, according to the organization’s Web site.

CASA Board President Chris Sewell said early Tuesday he expected the board to go ahead and vote to dissolve CASA on Tuesday night.

In addition to voting on whether to dissolve the group, Sewell expected some action on the agenda items regarding the sale of real property, primarily the building in which CASA meets.

“We have just a few things that need to be taken care of,” Sewell said.

Sewell also confirmed that the reason for the vote for the dissolution of “CASA of Southeast Oklahoma” is that the group has no funding.

CASA of Southeast Oklahoma had previously received funding from several sources, including the state program for Court Appointed Special Advocates and from the Victims of Crimes Act grant through the District Attorney’s Council.

Mike Parks, a McAlester attorney who serves as vice president of CASA of Southeast Oklahoma, said Tuesday that if the CASA board decided to go ahead and dissolve the local group, it would probably take a few weeks to do it, primarily to sell the real property.

“My thoughts were if we were not going to continue as CASA, there’s no sense in owning a building, so we’re going to sell it,” Parks said.

Parks also confirmed that the local CASA group was dissolving because of a lack of funding.

“In the past, we received funding from Oklahoma CASA,” Parks said. “The funding we were to receive in 2013, they chose not to make to us.”

Parks said he was never personally told by CASA of Oklahoma why the funding had been withheld.

Parks also said that Vern Courtwright, the last executive director for the local CASA office, has stepped down from the post. CASA no longer has the money to pay a director, according to Parks.

Aaron Williams, a former executive director of CASA, said he has complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding his dismissal from the post in 2013.

The EEOC has a policy of not confirming or denying investigations that are under way. A recording at EEOC’s Oklahoma City office on Tuesday said there would be a 43-minute wait on the phone lines in order to speak to an EEOC representative.

CASA met in January to discuss some of the challenges it faced. That meeting included a closed door-executive session. After the News-Capital raised concerns about the closed-door session, Parks said the next discussion on dissolution of CASA would be held during an open public meeting.

Tuesday night’s meeting was listed on the agenda as an open public meeting.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.